Shameless, but not blameless.
The messed-up adventures of the messed-up Gallagher family continue to be messed up in Showtime’s Shameless: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray).
The Gallagher family continues struggling to get by, usually with illegal and less than moral means. Patriarch Frank (William H. Macy, Fargo) remains kicked out of the house, finding his way in and out of various misadventures in his quest to keep the booze flowing in. Responsible older sister Fiona (Emmy Rossum, The Phantom of the Opera) works a bunch of odd jobs while fretting over her relationship with Jimmy (Justin Chatwin, Dragonball: Evolution). Unambitious genius Lip (Jeremy Allen White) has his own relationship woes while worrying about his future. Gay son Ian (Cameron Monaghan) tries to find his place in the world, as his romantic entanglements keep not working out. Adolescent Debbie (Emma Kenney) faces harsh coming-of-age realities, and preteen monster Carl (Ethan Cutcosky) is up for whatever trouble there is to be had.
This is an odd show. It has stellar production values and one of TV’s best casts, but I have no idea why it was made or who it is for. It has shock value to spare, but all the nudity, sex, drinking, drugs, crime, and violence are presented in a matter-of-fact way, in that this is just who these people are and this is what their lives are like. They make horribly bad, self-destructive decisions, but they’re also street smart, able to out-talk and out-con their way out of any situation. The Gallaghers are not heroes or antiheroes, they’re not likable or unlikable, they’re simply who they are.
The biggest problem with Shameless is the overall lack of story arcs. There are plots with the traditional beginning-middle-end, but how does this affect the characters? How are they growing and changing? They pretty much don’t. After marathoning all twelve episodes, there’s a less a feeling that this has been a singular story, or even twelve separate but connected stories, and more a feeling of “Here’s a bunch of random stuff that happened.” Plotlines are abruptly introduced, dealt with for a while, and then abruptly resolved just in time for something new to be abruptly introduced. This goes on and on. Similarly, by now the show’s playbook is so evident that any time a seemingly normal character is introduced, we know it’s only a matter of time before that same character reveals some sort of aberrant behavior. The season finale would have us believe that the characters are contemplating their futures and finally changing their lives, but based on what Shameless has presented up to this point, I can’t help but feel the future will be more of the same.
Lurid behavior is, of course, the big selling point. Shameless embraces extremism wholeheartedly. One of the funniest and/or most disgusting plotlines involves the ridiculous lengths neighbors Kevin (Steve Howey, Stan Helsing) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton, You Again) go to get pregnant. It fits the show’s ideal combination of humorous and morally repugnant. Other plotlines reek of trying too hard. When one of Frank’s angry rants ends up on TV, he is mistakenly labeled as a crusader for gay rights. We then get a long stretch of episodes with him ripping off the gay community for his own selfish gain, but, like so many of the show’s plots, it ends abruptly, with no real consequence. It seemed like the show would take a real turn when the government’s child services folks finally arrived on the Gallagher’s doorstep. We get some interesting stuff with the kids temporarily carted off to foster homes, but it’s not long before everyone’s back together again and off on other schemes.
Despite my misgivings about the writing, the show remains compelling and watchable for one big reason, the cast. Emmy Rossum continues to carry the show as its emotional center. Fiona fights for what’s best for the family, while still being just as shameless as the rest of them. Fiona’s speech she gives when fighting for legal custody of the kids is an amazing moment for Rossum, one that sums up her character and her devotion for her family and cements her status as the show’s star. William H. Macy continues to be antagonistic as Frank, balancing crafty with world-weary as he bumbles from one encounter to the next. The cast overall is great, wringing much care from otherwise despicable people. Kid actors Emma Kenney and Ethan Cutkosky are older now and are given meatier storylines, proving themselves to be gifted young actors.
Shameless has considerable production value, putting a lot of attention to detail in depicting the lowest of the low. This translates well onto Shameless: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray), with a 1.78:1/1080p HD transfer featuring bright, vivid colors and rich, deep blacks. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is just as good, with clean clear dialogue. For bonus features, there are five featurettes, each one emphasizing a different character, and a handful of deleted scenes. This is a five-disc set, with all twelve episodes on two Blu-rays, and the same twelve episodes on three DVDs.
A mess of a family gets a mess of a show. I’m torn. The lack of story structure is frustrating, but the performances are great. Put Season Three in your rental queue, before you commit to buy it (or shoplift it).